Traveling and Unraveling

The twenty-sixth installment of my abandoned Granadino memoir, Flawed Abroad: Useless editorializing from an ignorant, close-minded American on his semester overseas.

Miercoles, 23 Febrero 2005, 21.24 (Wednesday, February 23, 2005, 9:24 pm

I thought I’d seen everything Spain had to offer. And then I watched Hanging with Mr. Cooper (Viviendo con señor Cooper) in a Salamancan hotel room and my life changed forever.[1] Thanks to the experience, I’m thinking of forsaking all my worldly possessions (including silk thongs) and joining a convent…after my sex change, I mean.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, both temporally and geographically, so let me backtrack from midweek in central Spain to last weekend in Granada, where we find our Energizer conejo of a guide, Professor Maricarmen, attempting to cram some much needed culture down our cerveza-sodden throats.

And that's just what you can see from the street.

A month and a half after our arrival and our little expat posse was finally taking a formal tour of Granada’s famous Catedral, where the actual bodies of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella are said to be interred. The building itself was an architectural spectacle, as impressively gigantic as it was freaktacularly freezing. (Seriously, it was so cold that I may very well have sterilized my precious seed once and for all. Not that that’s really a practical hindrance, of course, as I can’t conceive of any woman wanting to pass along any portion of my DNA.) Begun in the early 16th century, the cathedral took 181 years to complete, eventually scraping God’s ankles at a dizzying 57 meters (187 feet) at its highest point. Even an inveterate heathen like myself could appreciate the almost palpable sense of history oozing from its every crack and pore. Unfortunately, there was little opportunity to simply stand there and absorb it since, even if we hadn’t been too numb to comprehend what she was saying most of the time, Maricarmen didn’t stop talking long enough to give us a chance. Perhaps I’ll return on my own one day to bask in its grandeur without a constant stream of chatter in my ear.

In the meantime, cultural improvement was taking a backseat to epidermal improvement, since Jess, Amanda, Liz, Emily, Jenna, ‘Steban, and myself were heading to Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol immediately after the tour, with plans to spend Saturday night and all of Sunday in the popular resort town located right on the Mediterranean. A bus ride here, a bus ride there, and before long, we were gorging ourselves at a cheap Chinese buffet, photographing sand sculpture Jesuses (Jesi?), and offending a snooty British lady — in that order.[2]

The next morning, we “took the sun” for six straight hours, interrupting our Heliocentric hedonism just long enough to stare at some old woman’s pendulous, uncovered bosom on what we belatedly realized was a clothing optional beach. Saggy funbags notwithstanding, I dearly miss that 70 degree (fahrenheit) weather. As I write this, the temperature in Madrid (the second stop on our group-sponsored jaunt through central Spain, following Salamanca and Segovia and preceding Toledo) registers a nut-shrinking 30 degrees. Not only that but, according to local sources, more snow has already fallen tonight than at any time in the last 21 years. Normally (and I use the term loosely) the frigid conditions wouldn’t bother me that much, considering I attend college in the less-than-tropical state of Maine. However, as it had during our tour of Granada’s cathedral, the frigid weather greatly interfered with our trip to the Escorial, which deserved far more attention than my frost-addled senses could commit.

My kingdom for a Razor Scooter

Located in the town of San Lorenzo de El Escorial (about 30 miles northwest of Madrid), this monastery cum palace cum museum cum school should have been one of the high points of our journey. Instead, we spent most of our time there huddled together like rabbits in a blizzard, doing our best to keep warm inside the frosty stone walls. I remember that the place was enormous, of course (our guide claims that it would take literally one week to walk through every room and corridor — we walked for two hours straight and saw only the library, the burial chambers, the monastery, and the royal apartments), and that it has been the burial site for most of the Spanish kings of the last five centuries, but I’m embarrassed to admit that any further details will have to be supplied by my good friend Wikipedia. Like the rest of your internal organs, apparently the memory centers of the brain also shut down during periods of extreme cold to conserve energy. Either that or I’m a no-account, cultural crumbum.

Either way, there are still a few days left in our tour for me to pull my head from the sand (or, in this case, the snow) and sluice some juicy learnin’ into it, so perhaps future entries will demonstrate my ability to overcome minor physical discomfort in the face of novel opportunities for self-education. I just hope the next place we visit has the heat turned on — or at least a nearby churro stand.
[1] Of course, having written that previous sentence—and this one for that matter—my life also changed forever, so the sentiment is pretty much meaningless. I really wish people would stop using it.
[2] To precise, I offended the lady. As we were walking back to the hotel, a scruff, squirrel-sized dog I took to be just another stray trotted by, and as a joke I advised my amigos to “stay away from the rat because it might have melanoma.” (I don’t know why I said melanoma; it was the first disease that popped into my head.) To our infinite and oft-quoted amusement, as soon as the words left my lips, the dog’s owner stalked by, sniffing heavily in our direction and replying in the most indignant English accent you can imagine, “No he doesn’t; he’s British.” Hilarious.

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